National Endowment for the Arts Statement on the Death of National Heritage Fellow Harry V. Shourds

August 11, 2017

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Man holding carved decoy of a duck.

Photo by Tom Pich

It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of master decoy carver Harry V. Shourds, recipient of a 1989 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. He was the first New Jersey resident to win this prestigious award.

Shourds was born July 24, 1930, and grew up on the New Jersey coast. A third-generation decoy carver, Shourds was largely self-taught though he would watch his father carve as a young boy.

In describing his own distinctive style of carving, Shourds said, "I use Jersey white cedar, which grows in the swamp, for the wood. It is a wood that's used on boats and shingles. It's a durable wood for outdoor use. The decoys are made in two pieces, the top half, and the bottom half. Both halves are hollowed out to make them light, and it gives them air space so they won't crack over the years.... Then, that's put together and caulked, just like you would a boat, so it won't leak. The head is put on separately and nailed from the top in case it is broken with usage.... There's an insert put in the bottom with a chisel where you put lead, about five ounces, in for ballast so that when the decoy is thrown out, if it lands upside down, it will roll over and sit right in the water.... You want it to ride right in the water so it swims like a duck." Once the construction is completed, Shourds added a "little leather thong on the front of it to tie the anchor rope to" and then sealed and painted the decoy to make it ready for use.

Despite his family’s history of decoy carving, Shourds said, "I hate to copy someone else, even if it's someone in my family.... I make my own ducks. And I think each one (in my family) did. You can tell my grandfather's duck from my father's duck, and you can tell my duck."

For more information about Harry V. Shourds, visit arts.gov.

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